Service honoring loved ones draws record turnout
November 19, 2013
Elaine Soyer (left) of Glidden and Carol Lenz, friends who both lost sons in the last three years, participate in placing “Sleep in Heavenly Peace” ornaments at the St. Anthony Regional Hospice Tree of Love Service. As of Sunday, 630 ornaments were sold. Ornaments can be purchased by contacting the St. Anthony Home Health and Public Health office at 794-5279 or visiting the St. Anthony Regional Hospital Coffee and Gift Shop.
As a newcomer to the community, the Rev. Cindy Johnson, who became new pastor at St. John Lutheran Church in March, welcomed the invitation to help lead Sunday's annual St. Anthony Regional Hospice Tree of Love service.
The Tree of Love service focuses on Christmas season, with participants hanging ornaments in honor of loved ones living and deceased on Christmas trees displayed in the St. Anthony Regional Hospital atrium. Experiencing the service for the first time, Johnson felt the timing is fitting both for Christmas and Thanksgiving, and she also cited an over-arching message of hope.
Johnson said Sunday's service indeed is a good way to kick off the Christmas season, adding, "and at this time when we're thinking in a Thanksgiving mode also that we can give thanks to God for what he has done for us through Jesus so that we aren't mourning without hope. I think it's that hope component that makes Christianity so wonderful."
She commented, "I was really glad to be a part of (the service). I hope they ask me again. This a wonderful way to remember loved ones. It gives people something concrete, to know their loved ones live on in their memories and are never forgotten."
Organizers said the service drew a record turnout, as extra chairs were brought in to accommodate the crowd.
For one family, Tami Brant of Glidden and her daughters, 12-year-old Ashlynn and 9-year-old Alyssa, the Tree of Love service has become an important tradition. Tami said she's been attending the service every year since her daughters were toddlers and noted the service gives participants a chance to remember what the holidays are about.
Johnson and St. Anthony Regional Hospital and Nursing Home pastoral care director Peg Scheidt led the service. Scheidt extended the invitation to Johnson.
In her part of the readings, Johnson said, "Comfort and encouragement are the words we hear from our heavenly Father. When our hearts are breaking and we feel so alone. Yet the prophet Isaiah tells us that the very Creator of the Universe cares about us. As we grieve for our loved ones, we remember they are sleeping in heavenly peace."
She added, "Hope is what gives us courage in times of sorrow. It is hope that renews our strength. It is hope that is the wind beneath our wings when our grief threatens to overwhelm us. A good way to think about hope is to use the acronym: Healing Our Present Emptiness. God's comfort brings healing to our wounded hearts and allows us to be refilled with the joy that is part of life in God. Our loved ones sleep in heavenly peace because they are beyond all pain. They are beyond all the anxiety of life. They are resting securely in God's love and grace so sleep in peace until that great day when all will rise and we will see one another again before God's throne of grace and mercy."
As part of the Tree of Love program ornaments are available for participants to place on trees. A new ornament design is introduced each year, and this year's features painting of a Nativity scene, with the theme "Sleep in Heavenly Peace."
Also during the service, Johnson, Scheidt and hospice staff members recited names of 492 loved ones. Many of those had received hospice care over the years, and others were names of people living and deceased that those who purchased ornaments wished to honor.
"It's a nice, almost a holy moment to stop and think of our loved ones," Johnson said. "I thought the (hour-long) service was just enough, and then to remember the names. I'm always impressed with this lady (Scheidt), and I'm impressed with this hospital. I'm impressed with the caring community we have in a town this size. To remember loved ones and offer a way to make a visible memory is all good."
As of Sunday, 630 ornaments had been purchased - suggested price is $5 each with proceeds going to hospice for patients' care.
While sale of ornaments has been brisk, a supply remains. Anybody interested in purchasing ornaments may contact the St. Anthony Home Health and Public Health office at 794-5279 or visit the St. Anthony Auxiliary Coffee and Gift Shop in the atrium entrance on the north side of the hospital. People who buy ornaments may choose to display them on trees and take them home after the holidays, or they can take ornaments home right away. A tag with names of those honored can be attached to the backs of ornaments.
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